After a long, harsh winter St. Patrick's day dawns bright and sunny - and a biting east wind. My plans to attend a local Parade are blown away by this wind. I am sneezing and coughing at a rate of knots. Executive decision taken...I am staying in, cosy before the fire.
A mug of tea, a good book and I shall relax. I find my mind wandering down the years to other St. Patrick's days. Days such as my ninth year. Mum and I took the train into Dublin to see the Grand Parade. There was another bitter east wind blowing up the River Liffey from the sea, and the parade of that year was small but yet community cosy. Nowadays our parades are like huge corporate events. Showy, glossy, loud and based on entertaining the tourist. No problem with that, but...I do hanker, at times, for the more "local" style of yesteryear. My memories for the Parade in 1963 are locked in because a very fat lady, in stiletto heels, stood back from in front of me, her stiletto heel found purchase in my foot. Today all that remains of that stiletto puncture is a small scar. I do remember my mother bringing me to the St. John's Ambulance van to have my foot bandaged and being given a lollipop. I'm sure that helped the pain.
The daffodils are out. We planted 300 bulbs last autumn. Each year we add more and they are now beginning to form rivers of yellow around the garden; they are followed on by tulips, awe-inspiring with their Easter colours of pink, wine, cream, yellow of all shapes and varieties. 1970's Paddy's Day is vivid in my memories. The year the house nearly went on fire.
I was 15 and had just had my hair cut short for the first time since I was five. I had also just gotten my first perm and did I think I was the finest fish in the ocean?? Oh yeah! I was sitting under the hairdryer [hood type] as part of getting ready to go to my first disco that night. If excitement can be measured as energy then we wouldn't have a climate change problem with all the energy I was emitting.
Around half past three our phone rang. It was my father ringing from the local town where, as a policeman he was on duty, to say that he could see the hill behind us and it was on fire. The gorse had either spontaneously combusted or been aided and abetted to do so. The flames were raging faster than the fire brigade could cope with and it was wind blown in our direction. In those days the gorse came a little closer to the house. My parents firebreak was not mine. Today the gorse is well away from endangering us. As it raced towards the house Mum and I went into action, out with the garden hose to wet the back of the house; me, resplendent in my hair curlers.
It was a bad day for a fire, a Tuesday and most of the neighbours had taken advantage of the day off work to go and visit friends and relations. However, those who were around helped out with forks and spades and shovels stamping out the flames. Another neighbour ran around the hill to tell the Brigade to come around to our side. Three hours later our kitchen was filled with firemen and neighbours, sooty, sweaty and exhausted but victorious. The fire was out, the smouldering small fires in the dry grass contained and we passed around tea and sandwiches. The disco was forgotten; the hair was now well dried in its rollers and smelling of burnt gorse. At school the following day one teacher asked the class did we have a quiet St Patrick's day. We certainly had a hot one at home.
1976 comes to mind because it was such a warm, balmy day. It was unusual to see people in at the Parade in Dublin wearing light clothing. We had a week of what passed for heat wave for us that year. Later on we would have one of the hottest summers of that century; St. Patrick's day just presaged it. My friends and I decided to go to the Zoo that day. We hadn't been for years and, as the saying goes, the fancy to do so took us. I was wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a Houston college hoodie that a pen pal had sent me. Every few yards people would stop me and ask me was I over for the Parade.
You can imagine their faces when I replied, in my Irish accent, that no...I was local. Disappointment was the most frequent reaction followed by "well then, are you at college in Texas?" Again, disappointment. "Well, then wouldja not wear a good green jersey if you're not an 'merican" said one hardy soul to me. Chuckling, I wandered off with my friends. It was the American tourists who were more decked out in green, as always on St Paddy's day, that year.
Ninteen Eighty is another St. Patricks Day memory that leaps forward. OH and I had just married on the 15th, we were on honeymoon in Kerry. The place was deserted. Many people had gone up to Cork or Dublin or Limerick to see the big Parades. We had the road to ourselves as we drove out to Valentia Island. It was warm and there was a balmy west wind blowing across the Kerry coast.
In the meantime many St Patrick's Days have come and gone. Memories of the excited little faces of my daughters at their first Parade in Dublin, of taking part in Parades with their Tae Kwando classmates in local parades, of long evenings with friends, chatting and talking before the fire. Nights such as these are real Ceili nights. After all, a ceili is a gathering or get-together to sit and chat and sing a song or two, aided by a glass of Paddy, my favourite Irish whisky.
Lá feile Padraig to you all and may the road rise before you.